Thursday, 8 June 2017

Partick Duck Club

Partick Duck Club, old and new.

Partick Duck Club, Hyndland Street, Glasgow
Once it was The Hyndland Bar. Then it was Brian's Bar. An imaginative re-brand gave us a decade of Cafe Rio, with its 1950s diner vibe and jazz, poetry readings and open mic nights. All that changed a few weeks ago. With classy new decor insight and a shocking blue coat of paint outside, the Partick Duck Club arrived in this part of Partick, the corner of Fordyce Street and Hyndland Street. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner they are aiming at the bistro feel that has been successful further up the street at Cafezique. I enjoyed a tasty lunch in here last week (I ordered their duck dish of course) and wish them success in their venture.

The Partick Duck Club name rang a bell for me. I had read about the original "Partick Duck Club" before. On an afternoon randomly browsing books in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow I came across the intriguingly titled "Glasgow and its Clubs; Or Glimpses of Conditions, Manners, Characters and Oddities of the City" by John Strang, published in 1855. The complete book is available in various places online now, a gossipy and snooty account of the various city worthies and their pastimes, some chapters of which appeared in The Spectator in the 1850s. Alongside tales of the Hodge Podge Club, Waterloo Club, Sma' Weft Club and the Face Club is a chapter on "Partick and its Gastronomes - Duck Club". As the name has been resurrected I have reproduced the chapter from this book on the original Partick Duck Club.

The Bunhouse, Partick, 1827
Formed in 1810, the Duck Club of Partick was a social club made up of merchants, bankers, shopkeepers and professors. They would meet up on a Saturday and walk out from Glasgow to the leafy village of Partick, on the banks of the River Kelvin. The picture above (from 1827) shows the tavern in which they would gather, the "Bun and Yill House", also know as the Bunhouse. This stood on Old Dumbarton Road near to the river. Yill is an old Scots word for ale. The Regent Flour Mill stood near to the Bunhouse inn and tavern, and was usually known as the Bunhouse Mill because of this. All that carries the name now down in that part of Partick is Bunhouse Road, which runs alongside the Kelvin Hall, connecting to Old Dumbarton Road.

The members of the club would come out here to drink the locally brewed ale or a glass of cold punch and enjoy green peas with roasted duck; ducks made abundant and healthy from feeding at all the local grain mills down by the river here. It was a Partick which still had the ruins standing of the second Partick Castle (recent archaeology has confirmed the existence of an earlier castle than the one Mr Strang describes - I have written about it here). 

John Strang's account of the club, in its heyday from 1810 to 1830, was written in 1855 at a time of great change, from a rural village to an industrial town, ready to be swallowed up by Glasgow growing out towards it (I have previously looked back at Partick's growth here). He writes of there being only one notable tavern in the village at that time, whereas in his day Partick "has now many more public-houses than even the greatest enemy to the Maine Liquor Law could well justify." Maps a further 30 years after show a Partick in 1884 with many more tenement blocks, many more pubs, and no licensed premise on Old Dumbarton Road.

1884 map of Partick with pubs and premises licensed to sell alcohol highlighted

Below is the account of the Partick Duck Club, from his 1855 book "Glasgow and its Clubs; Or Glimpses of Conditions, Manners, Characters and Oddities of the City".

Partick and its Gastronomes


"Among the many rural villages which at one time surrounded Glasgow, perhaps none surpassed Partick in beauty and interest. Situated on the banks of a limpid and gurgling stream, which flowed through its centre; and beautified, as it was of yore, with many fine and umbrageous trees; and above all, ornamented with an old hoary castle, with whose history many true and many more fabulous tales were associated; and when to these were added its dozen or two of comfortable and clean cottages, and its picturesquely-planted mills, historically linked with the generous gift of the successful opponent of the lovely Mary at Langside, - all combined to render this locality one of the most favourite of suburban retreats.* It was, in fact, the resort of every who enjoyed a lovely landscape, an antiquarian ramble, or a mouthful of fresh air - to which might be superadded, the certainty of getting a mouthful of something better, provided the visitor should have ever heard of the good things obtainable within the walls of its ancient “Bun-and-yill-house.”

*The mills at Partick belong, to the Corporation of Bakers. In the year 1568, the forces of the Regent Murray, who successfully opposed those of Mary Queen of Scots at the battle of Langside, were quartered in Glasgow and its neighbourhood. On this an occasion the bakers were called upon for an extraordinary supply of bread for the troops, which they implemented so much to the satisfaction of the Regent, that he gave them a grant of the Archbishop's mill, which had now become the property of the Crown, and a piece of ground adjoining it. In 1664 the bakers erected a small mill on the site of the old one, which, in conjunction it the Town's mill, served them till the year 1771, when they purchased, from the Magistrates and Council of Glasgow, the malt and snuff mills at Clayslaps,  a few hundred yards above the Partick mills. These the Incorporation fitted up as a flour mill, which has subsequently been enlarged, and, since then, they have made large additions to the establishments at Clayslaps and Partick.In 1818 the west wing of the old mill was taken down and rebuilt, and in 1828 the remaining part of the old building was taken down and reconstructed.

 Such was Partick during the latter part of the last century; and even for a few years after the commencement of the one which has produced so many metamorphoses it still retained its rural character and its smoke-less atmosphere. At the latter period, there were still only a straggling house or two on the side of the turnpike from Anderston to the Craw-road. The summit of Gilmorehill had scarcely been two or three years crowned by Mr Bogle's handsome mansion; and the house at Dowanhill was just being finished, while the trees in front of it, which are now so lofty and leafy, were only being planted, under the boyish eye of him who now pens this notice. The fact is, Partick was then truly in the country. Its comfortable thatched and white-washed cottages, with its ruinous castle, were such as to evoke the admiration of every tasteful limner; and its river, while it suggested a theme for the poet's lyre, likewise offered an attraction for the angler's rod.
For many long years after this, however, Partick may still be said to have maintained its sequestered aspect; but at length utilitarianism, that foe to beauty and the picturesque, marched westward from the City. The steam-engine became, a necessary accessory to the flour and corn mills, and, thereafter, to many other public factories. The few one-storey cottages that spotted the slopes of the Kelvin, or surrounded the ancient Castle, could not meet the requirements of the hundreds of houseless ship-builders and other citizens, drawn from a distance to the extensive establishments which increasing capital and enterprise had there erected. The ground on which these cottages stood soon became too valuable to be occupied by such humble dwellings, which were ere long supplanted by more formidable though less picturesque tenements; while the once-honoured though ruinous-gabled castle was some years ago, converted into a quarry.* 

* The old castle of Partick, which had stood as a landmark for many long years,at the junction of the Clyde with the Kelvin, was removed almost in a night, by ruthless hands, to form dykes to the neighbouring fields. It entirely disappeared about the year 1836 or 1837. In a pamphlet giving the story of Partick Castle, and in letters addressed to David McKinlay, Esq., preceptor of Hutcheson's Hospital, by Laurence HIB LLB., he says, "I became aware from some private personal papers of the founders, which, on the death of Thomas Hutcheson's widow, Mrs Marion Stewart, passed into the hands of their nephew, Mr Ninian Hill of Lambhill, that this house (Particik Castle), known as Bishop's Castle, and which was certainly built in the year mentioned by Chalmers, was the work not of Bishop Spottiswode, but built as a dwelling-house for himself, by George Hutcheson." Mr Hill adds, "the contract betwixt me and ye masoun in Kilwyinning, anent the bigeing of the house of Partick," dated the 9th and 14th January, 1611. So that in future, the ecclesiastical status of the ruinous house which once so picturesquely adorned the west bank of the Kelvin, must be annihilated.

At this hour, the landscape painter's occupation  about Partick is gone; the sketching desk may be for ever closed, and the pencil and pallet thrown aside. The village is now a town, with a provost and baillies, a police force, local taxes, and a lockup-house; and instead of having one celebrated “Bun-and-yill-house," it has now many more public-houses than even the greatest enemy to the Maine Liquor Law could well justify. It has been stretching out on every side, and for some time has been shaking hands with Glasgow, so far as gas and lamp-posts are concerned. Its future destiny will doubtless be, to be swallowed up like its suburban relatives, Calton, Bridgeton, Gorbals, and Anderston, by its all absorbing Babylonish parent city.

It was about the period when Partick was in its more rural, that there existed diverse knots of individuals connected with Glasgow, who, inspired by the noble purpose of enjoying ducks and green peas in perfection, with cold punch ad libitum, proceeded hebdomadally to indulge their gastronomic propensities at this picturesque village. Among the many inducements which this locality offered to these united bands of kindred spirits were, the agreeable and health-inspiring distance of this common rendezvous from the smoky City—the picturesque appearance of the village itself—the refreshing flow of the limpid Kelvin, broken by successive cascades—the neat and comfortable character of the hostelry; and above all, the superior quality of ducks reared under all the known advantages that arise from the proximity which large grain-mills naturally afford for good feeding. To these inducements, too, was superadded the delicious manner in which the ducks were prepared for the table, and which never failed to excite an appetite, which was only each guest had finished his bird!

 Of these various groups of Glasgow gastronomes, there was one which, par excellence was truly entitled to the appellation of the DUCK CLUB OF PARTICK, seeing that, during the whole season, when these luxuries were in perfection, and even after they became a little out of date, there seldom was a Saturday permitted to pass on which the several members of this social fraternity were not seen either wending their hungry way towards the well-known "Bun-house" of that village, between the hours of three and four o'clock, or returning therefrom "well refreshed" before "set of sun."

Many of the men who composed this rather gustative and gormandising fraternity had long been connected with the management of the Trades' House, and had held deaconships and masterships in several of the Incorporations of the City, in which capacities they had learned the value of the good old and well-known Hudibrastic apophthegm, and never failed to practise it when they had any object to carry. They felt also, during their long experience in public office, that business might be carried on successfully, although the members of the sederunt should quaff, during the breathing-time intervals, something rather stronger than the produce of the Westport well. In short, they were men to whom good eating and serious drinking was no novelty—such creature comforts, in fact, forming a peculiar feature in their every-day corporate life. As a key to the Corporation class who were members of the Duck Club, we may merely mention Mr M‘Tyre—a gentleman who, after passing through all the gradations of the Cordiners' Corporation, arrived at last at the Convener's chair and a seat at the City Council board. This personage, who may be justly regarded as the president of the social Partick brotherhood, was exceedingly popular, not only among his Council friends at the "Bun-house," but likewise among the members of the Trades' House. He was, in fact, so much esteemed by the latter body, that they expressed a unanimous wish to have his portrait taken as a most appropriate ornament to their Corporation walls; and there it now hangs as a stimulant to every ambitious man to do his duty. It was during the period of this popularity that the Convener was most frequently found wending his way, with majestic step, towards Partick; it was then that the ducks in that village suffered most from his Saturday visits; and it was on one of these occasions that the Club poet, Mr William Reid—of whom more anon—improvised the following true and touching couplet
"The ducks of Partick quack for fear,
Crying, ‘Lord preserve us; there's McTear!’”*
And no wonder. For no sooner was the rubicund beak of the worthy Convener espied by the blue and white swimmers of the mill-dam, than it was certain that the fate of those now disporting would become, ere another Saturday, that of their jolly companions who at that moment were suffering martyrdom at the auto-da-fe in the kitchen of the "Bun-house!" Though the ducks, as may reasonably be supposed, quacked loudly in anticipation of their coming fate, yet the Convener, having no sympathy with anything akin to the melting mood, except what was produced by the sun's summer beams, was deaf to pity.

* We have been favoured with a correct MS. copy of the poem penned by Mr Reid; and although satirical, severe, personal, and perhaps not altogether just towards the individual who is the burden of the song, it is at least characteristic of what Dr Chalmer’s powerful oratory produced soon after his arrival in Glasgow.

"Ilk body has his hobby-horsey:
John Lawson sings --Brown fechts wi Dorsey;
 There's souter Will, used every day
 The Catholic synagogue survey;
Since Chalmers cam he changed his tune—
Some say he'll be an elder soon
His name is never out his mouth,
Even when we meet to slocken drouth;
And what, has been his curious lot,
He’s made a proselyte of Scott!
Not  only him, but there’s the tanner,
Of curious, furious, swearing manner,
Even he’s at kirk the ither Sunday,
And swears by G— he'll back on Monday!
There's Gibb the sonter in a broil,
Does every Sunday fecht wi’ Croil;
About a seat he’ll bite and bark,
Argue wi’ bailies and their clerk;
Vulcan and Condie, ill their turn,
 Will warsle keel' wi’ Dr Burn.
A' this proceeds frae souter Willie,
Wha’s now turn'd good and unca holy.
The Provost says it's guid to men—
Great need there was, and that some ken;
For, when he was in London toun,
‘Tis said he was an unca loon;
He made his boots, they said, on Sunday,
And then he drank and ---- on -Monday;
But now his heart is holy warm,
His Sunday face as lang’s my arm;
We've seen the day he used to revel,
And even on Sunday went to travel;
The fowls at Partick used to ken him,
It’s even been said they used to name him
The ducks the quack’d through perfect fear,
Crying, ‘Lord preserve us! There’s McTear!’”

He felt too strongly the truth of Cato’s famous saying, that "it is no easy task to preach to the belly, which has no ears." The truth is, that neither the poetry of Reid nor the quacking of the ducks had any power over the alimentative bump of the carnivorous Convener. Its cry never ceased from June to October, when, alas! the broad sheet of water which, in spring, had been almost covered with the feathered flock of youthful divers, was found, in autumn, altogether untenanted, save by the lamenting parents of their once happy and noisy families! The Convener and the Club had, during the summer's campaign, made conscripts of all the young, and had sacrificed them to their own gustative propensities, without one tear for the family bereavements they were weekly occasioning, except, perhaps, when that was now and then called forth through the pungency of the spiritual consolation which universally followed the Saturday holocaust!

And, in good troth, when we reflect on those duck feasts, we do not wonder at the weekly turn out of guests who congregated at Partick, or that there should have been, in consequence, a hebdomadal murder of the innocents to meet the cravings of the Club. For we verily believe, that never did even the all-famous " Trois freres Provenceaux," in the Palais Royal at Paris, send up from their celebrated cuisine, un canard roti in better style than did the landlady of the Partick "Bun-house" her roasted ducks, done to a turn and redolent with sage and onion ; — and then the pease, all green and succulent, and altogether free from the mint of England and the sugar of France! What a glorious sight it was to see the Club met, and what a subject would such a meeting have afforded to the painter of character and manners! The rosy countenance and bold bearing of the president, seated at the head of a table surrounded by at least a dozen of happy guests almost as rubicund and sleek as himself, each grinning with cormorant eye ever his smoking duckling, and only waiting the short interval of hastily muttered grace to plant his ready knife into its full and virgin bosom; —verily, the spectacle must have been a cheering one!

It may easily be conceived how many changes must have occurred among the members of the Particik Duck Club, during the twenty years in which, from 1810 to 1830, the fraternity met and guzzled; but, perhaps, none was more striking than the change which befell its worthy president. The Trades' House, Police Board, and Council popularity, which Convener McTyre had won by his talents for business, by the energy of his character, and by his devotion to the best interests of the City, was all lost during the short and evanescent struggle of a Parliamentary election. At the time to which we allude, the Council of Glasgow was nearly equally divided between the claims of two gentlemen, who then offered themselves to represent them in the House of Commons. These worthy individuals were, the well-known Mr Kirkman Finlay and Mr Campbell of Blythswood; and, although the commercial mart of the West of Scotland was as yet limited to having only a fourth voice in the representation, it so happened that her voice on that occasion settled the Membership. The interest in the result was therefore more than usually keen, and the candidates and their supporters were more than usually exacting. It must also be remembered, that although both candidates for the seat may be said to have been hitherto linked with the Tory party, still Mr Finlay, from having given tokens of greater liberality in commercial matters, and particularly in having loudly advocated the opening up of the trade with India and China, secured for himself the support of the more liberal portion of the community, and, consequently became the popular candidate. Mr McTyre, who all along, during his public career, had voted with the latter party, was looked upon, at first, as a sure card for Mr Finlay. But ere long he began to coquet with the supporters of his opponent, and at last went fairly over to his camp. The consequence of this one false step in the eyes of his former admirers was, that he was hurled from his lofty throne of popularity, and stigmatised as nothing better than a political recreant and tergiversator. And so high was political feeling then carried, that it was seriously mooted, in order to testify the popular displeasure against such conduct, to urge the Trades’ House to order the full-length portrait of their once beloved and admired Convener to be turned upside down, to deter others from turning their coats and changing their colours in future! In short, it was gravely proposed to hang the poor Convener by the heels instead of the head,—a degradation which, however, for the honour of all concerned, was, under the reflection of cooler moments, never carried into execution. The instability of popular feeling, combined with an increasing love for his birthplace, drew the ex-Convener from Glasgow to Maybole, and, consequently, deprived the Partick Club of one of its chief loadstars and the ducks of their chief enemy.

While these rulers of the various Trades may be considered to have been the chief assistants at the weekly demolition of ducks and green peas, which took place in the comfortable hostelry situated near the flour-mills at Partick, there were happily others also present who could throw their mite of merriment into the afternoon's symposium; and among these was a gentleman to whom we have already slightly alluded—the facetious Mr William Reid, of the well-known firm of Brash & Reid, who, as book-sellers, carried on for so long a period a successful business in the Trongate, and to whose labours the bibliomaniac is indebted for some rather scarce and curious publications. In the then extensive field of Glasgow's social companions, it would have been difficult to find one more courted as a club associate than Mr Reid. To a peculiarly placid temper, he united a strong smack of broad humour, and an endless string of personal anecdotes, which he detailed with a gusto altogether his own. Of all things he loved a joke, and indulged in this vein even at the risk of causing the momentary displeasure either of an acquaintance or a customer. We say momentary— for with all his jesting and jocularity, he never really said, we believe, one word which was meant to offend. To "laugh and grow fat" was his constant grotto, and, consequently, he never troubled himself either about his own obesity or about that of any one else who might follow his laughing example. Of the satirical sallies poured out behind the book-seller's counter in the Trongate, we have heard as many repeated as might well eke out another supplement to the already thousand and one sayings of the " Laird of Logan"—who, most assuredly, had he lived in the pantheistical days of the early world, would have disputed with Momus the god-like crown of mirth!

Mr Reid’s every-day off-hand rhymes it is perhaps enough to say that they entitled him to enter the lists as a Scottish improvisatore. But while the witty bibliopole indulged in these playful and innocent vagaries, it must never be forgotten that he has also left behind him " drops of ink" that will go down to posterity—verses linked, as a few of them are, with the never-dying lyrics of Robert Burns—whose early friend and acquaintance he was—which will be sung as they now are; and although but too frequently believed to be altogether the breathings of the bard of Ayrshire, are nevertheless partly the production of the bard of the Duck Club of Partick. It is only justice to say, that in early and mature life Mr Reid could boast of no small share of that peculiar talent which the genius and dazzling career of Burns evoked in the minds of many of his admiring countrymen. He not only shared in the general enthusiasm which the appearance of that "day-star of national poetry" elicited, but he also participated  himself not unworthy of either such intimacy or such inspiration. These lyrics are chiefly preserved in a collection entitled " Poetry, Original and Select," and which at this moment is rarely to be met with, save in the libraries of the members of the Roxburgh, Bannatyne, and Maitland Clubs, or of the more unobtrusive race of bibliomaniacs scattered over the country, but which, since the demise of poor Dr Thomas Frognall Dibdin, are now sadly getting into the " sere and yellow leaf." There is another curious publication with which Mr Reid was connected, the "Life of James McKean," who was executed for the murder of James Buchanan, the Lanark carrier, at the Cross of Glasgow, on Wednesday the 25th January, 1797. As a piece of biography, it is certainly neither remarkable for taste nor talent; but as a statement of what McKean, while under sentence of death, actually communicated to the compiler, it is both curious and startling. The work had an extraordinary sale, through the never-ceasing existence of that odd craving for everything connected with the horrible . As a conclusion to this imperfect sketch of Mr Reid, we may mention that for many years he kept a large vase, or pinnar-pig, into which he deposited his literary scraps, where, for aught we know, they still remain under that ban which he so often made use of when making a deposit or closing a story, and which we would in his case also repeat –
“Down wi’ the lid! Quo’ Willie Reid.”
With the departure of the shadow of the jolly Convener from the “Bun-house,” the Duck Club may be said to have closed its regular sittings; and although many knots of social spirits have since met in perpetuation of the Partick Club, still, never have the roasted ducks and green peas been demolished with such gusto, nor the punch goblets been drained with such delight, as when the broad humour and telling anecdotes of the Trongate bibliophile made every well-lined paunch shake with laughter.

Since the departure of these two worthies from the scene of their gormandising glory, the “Bun-house” of Partick has as much ceased to Glasgow gourments to be the shrine of Apicius, as the castle of Partick to be the haunt of the antiquarian limner. "

1 comment:

  1. fascinating, oh how I wish time travel was a reality and I would spend my present time in the past wandering with my camera to capture these old scenes...